Fifty dancing years
From Bhama to Kannagi, Madhavi to Draupadi, Uma Murali has touched the hearts of many across several stages in India and abroad. To describe this feat, Uma said. “I’ve never had a gap year in all these 50 years. I’ve been physically and mentally fit to dance and have the unquestionable support of my family.”
Beginning her dance learning with Bharatanatyam from guru K. N. Dhandayudha Pillai and continuing with Adyar K Lakshman, Uma took to Kuchipudi in 1987 at the age of 22 at the Kuchipudi Art Academy of Vempati Chinna Sathyam.
In these 50 years, she has received numerous awards and accolades like the Kalaimamani from the Government of Tamil Nadu, Yuva Kala Bharathi from Bharath Kalachar, Nadanamamani from Kartik Fine Arts and the Best Dancer Endowment award from Krishna Gana Sabha. She has to her credit some unique dance productions, Sura Sundari Vaibhavam, Yagnaseni and Prakruthi. Her DVDs - Soundarya Manjari and Madhurya Murali, a product of Swathi Soft Solutions, have received positive responses worldwide.
In celebration of her 50 years in dance, Uma organised day-long talks and presentations at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha and performances at Narada Gana Sabha, Chennai, on 24 June 2023.
The morning seminar had an astute set of presentations with intellectual references. Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi exponent, Sailaja, along with her student D. Dilip, presented, In the eyes of a dual exponent, the contrast and charm of the two worlds – Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi. The duo presented Brindavana Saranga tillana of M. Balamuralikrishna. The lines and the curves moved on parallel planes, but their symbiotic conglomeration in the junction, especially the arudis, triggered excitement. “One has to be acclimatised to a style before putting a foot on the other,” opined Sailaja.
Kuchipudi dancer Prateeksha Kashi from Bengaluru spoke on Vachika and aharya abhinaya, which often gets ignored in the omnipresent angika. The lecture highlighted various facets of aharya abhinaya and, in its course, gave the listeners a repository of dance dramas. She also brushed through some technical details, as mentioned in chapter 23 of Bharata’s Natya Sastra, including pusta (props made out of cardboard or wood), alankara (decorations using flowers and ornaments), angaracana (painting of limbs), sanjiva (entrance of animals on stage). She touched upon the impact of the movie industry on aharya in dance.
Senior Kuchipudi dancer, Madhavapeddi Murthy, presented the Role of impersonation in Kuchipudi natyam. His excerpts of Vipranarayana Charitram, Sreenivasa Kalyanam and Sishupala enthralled the audience. His seniority, experience and learning under Vempati Chinna Satyam for over 20 years reflected in the ease at which he carefully knit his excerpts.
Laasya Narasimhachari presented Naa hridaya peetipai natyamaade deva, a nearly 100-year-old choreography of Vedantam Lakshminarayana Sastry. The story of how Laasya and her mother, Vasanthalakshmi Narasimhachari, traced the thread of the composition and brought forth interesting facets and names was fascinating. Maranganti Satyanarayana Chari (M.S. Harnath), Laasya’s grandfather, taught her father and senior dance guru late Narasimhachari, this composition. The video presentation mentioned Maranganti Kanchalamala, the first female disciple of Lakshmi Narayana. Shanti Vendantam, the granddaughter of Lakshmi Narayana Sastry, had also given their anecdotes and experience of the piece. Then there was Lanka Annapurna and the effervescent Chinta Seetaramanjaneyulu (aged 96 during the interview). The audience was thrilled to see his enthusiasm as he tried to demonstrate a few steps from his memory. Laasya mentioned that this idea came from a condolence letter written by scholar V.A.K. Ranga Rao, who mentioned the piece and his wish that Narasimhachari choreographed it.
The final presentation by Padmavani Mosalikanti, who spoke on behalf of her husband Kishore Mosalikanti, highlighted Vempati Chinna Satyam’s influence and impact in present-day Kuchipudi repertoire. Their daughter Mohanam did the visual depictions through some of Kishore’s signature choreographies as Vani spoke of the influence and reconstruction of Kuchipudi adavus. The Sree Saraswati namostute, Jaya Jaya Durge and a Kuntalavarali tillana reinforced the strong footwork needed in Kuchipudi.
In the evening, select students of Uma Murali’s Subhasheelam Academy of Fine Arts presented popular units from the Kuchipudi repertoire. As a tribute to her guru and her long-term association with the academy, she collaborated with Kuchipudi Art Academy to stage the evergreen dance production of Vempati - Sree Krishna Parijatam. Uma, clad in red, honed the character of Bhama, and her entry was marked with a loud cheer from the audience. The charm of her 50 years of dancing, the courage and grit that comes along, and the sheer happiness seemed to gleam through Satyabhama. “I performed the character of Satyabhama in 1989, even before my rangapravesam. Probably Master felt I would be able to do justice,” she recollected. Uma performed the character of Rukmini in the year 2000. But, “Satyabhama has myriad shades. She is beautiful, graceful, arrogant, intelligent and manipulative. It is more challenging. I like challenges,” said Uma.
Dancer Swapna Alase played the role of Narada, Vempati Lakshmi Kameswari, Rukmini, and Varshitha played the role of Krishna. The live musical ensemble comprised - Aditya Anukula (cymbals), Nalla Chakravatula Koushik Kalyan and Pavani Mutnuri (vocal), Sreedhar Acharya (mridangam), C.V. Sudhakar (flute), C. V. Krishna Subrahmanyam (violin) and C. Praneeth (veena).
Senior dancer and guru Vasanthalakshmi Narasimhachari was the guest of honour in the morning. Chief guests for the evening were Vijaya Thayanban, Member Secretary, Tamil Nadu Iyal Isai Nataka Mandram and scholar Nandini Ramani, Executive Board Member, S.N.A., New Delhi.
When asked how Uma felt after the celebration, she humbly answered, “I have not achieved anything. I remember the days of my learning. How vividly Master Garu (Vempati Chinna Satyam) would teach the nuances. I want to set an example for my students and teach them in depth. I want to take up more challenges and work on intense abhinaya compositions for my students and me.”
Photographs: Santosh Janardhan
Photographs: Santosh Janardhan